Do You Prefer Little Orphan Annie... Or Mae West?

By | Monday, May 10, 2021 1 comment
The image here is a "Komic Kamera" from the Allied MFG Co. circa 1934. Looking through the eyepiece on one end, you could see an enlargement of a filmstrip backlit from a hole on the opposite end. The knob on the front cranked the filmstrip forward one frame at a time. It essentially acted liked a ViewMaster but without the stereoscopics to produce the 3D effect.

Judging by the images on the unit itself, it was mostly used to present comic strips. (The back side features Krazy Kat, Dagwood Bumstead and others poorly drawn versions of comic strips characters popular around that time.) The only strip example I've seen featured illustrations; I'm guessing the black and white linework was cheaper to produce in this format than photos and/or color? You swap the film out like you would with a camera of that period, and you could purchase new film strips with other characters/stories for (from the one advertisement I found) five cents.

Now, here's the interesting bit. The one strip that I've seen up for auction was NOT in fact a popular Sunday strip character, but parodies of popular celebrities of the time. Here's the title image...
The story, from what I can tell, is basically just a sex romp with no appreciable differences from a Tiajuana Bible! There's some pretty lewd imagery and a variety of celebrity appearances like Jimmy Durante and Samuel Goldwyn (of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer fame). The story is a little over 30 frames long, so substantially more detailed that a typical Tiajuana Bible, and the art at least in this particular one seems of considerably higher quality.

The steroescope was around long before ViewMaster came into being -- the earliest ones date back to the 1830s! But ViewMasters' big revolution was in using them to present stories instead of just scenic images. I argued back here that this made those reels comics. But evidently, ViewMaster wasn't the company to come up with the idea in the first place. These peoplee were doing comics and comics porn decades before!

And what I find really amazing is that these ever existed. Compared to a Tiajuana Bible, these must have been incredibly highly priced just to cover the basic costs. That ad I mentioned cited a retail price of 39¢ -- about the equivalent of eight bucks today. Eight dollars for what's essentially a viewer for a six-page comic book, plus another dollar for every additional six pages. I was always under the impression that smut from that era was produced as cheaply as possible because it was all under the table. Evidently, though, there were several socio-economic levels in that particular black market!

One other interesting addendum to this: the Allied MFG Co. folded before World War II. It's a topic I hope to do a little more research on before I get into it here, but it seems like the company's owner was robbed of several thousand dollars by his own adult son in a mob-style hit. The subsequent legal fees and general distraction of the scandal seem to have contributed to the company's downfall. But let me do some more digging before I get into that!
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Billy Hogan said...

When I was a kid, I remember having something similar, in a way, although it was very updated from this toy. It was a viewer you held up to your eye and put a small plastic cartridge in the back. It held a cartoon, and you turned the crank to watch it on a loop of film. I don't remember what cartoon it came with.